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Offseason Primers: Carolina Panthers

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Ron Rivera's first season as head coach in Carolina resulted in a 6-10 record, but there was plenty of optimism about a playoff run, in part because of the play of Cam Newton.

Instead, the team floundered early in Rivera's second season and finished with a 7-9 record, in part because of the play of Newton. Year 3 of the Rivera era could be the last in Carolina if the team doesn't post a winning record -- and you-know-who will be a huge factor.

2012 Touches Leaders
746 total touches (rush attempts + receptions)
DeAngelo Williams 186 (173 car., 13 rec.) 24.9%
Cam Newton 127 car. 17.0%
Jonathan Stewart 110 (93 car., 17 rec.) 14.8%
Mike Tolbert 81 (54 car., 27 rec.) 10.9%
Steve Smith 76 (73 rec., 3 car.) 10.2%
Greg Olsen 69 rec. 9.2%
Brandon LaFell 47 (44 rec., 3 car.) 6.3%
All Others 50 6.7%

The good news for Newton is that his play dramatically improved in the second half of the season, thanks to some tweaks in his game and a favorable schedule. He went from averaging a lousy 17.0 Fantasy points per game in his first seven games to 25.3 per game in his last nine. And for as big a deal as the Panthers' zone-read scheme was, he only scored on six such plays total (compared to 21 in a more standard formation). With many analysts believing defenses will have an answer for the zone-read in 2013, this should be viewed as good news.

And for the first time since his high school days, Newton will be in the same offensive scheme for the third straight year, albeit with a new play caller. Mike Shula replaces Rob Chudzinski as the Panthers offensive coordinator and he's expected to keep most if not all of Chudzinski's offense in place. While there might not be as much creativity as 'Chud' was able to infuse, it keeps Newton comfortable and confident, which is important as he continues to develop.

Newton already will enter 2013 with momentum from last year, but if the Panthers provide him with a good offensive line, he'll have the chance at some monster numbers. And the better he does, the better the Panthers will do. Newton could turn out to be a gem of a pick if he falls to the third round as many expect him to in Fantasy drafts.

DeAngelo Williams -- Offseason sleeper

2012 Target Leaders
490 pass attempts
Steve Smith 138 28.2%
Greg Olsen 104 21.2%
Brandon LaFell 76 15.5%
Louis Murphy 60 12.2%
Mike Tolbert 39 8.0%
Jonathan Stewart 23 4.7%
DeAngelo Williams 20 4.1%
All Others 30 6.1%

Let's be honest: No one's looking for Williams on Draft Day based on how he's done the last two years. He'll be on the wrong side of 30 when the season starts, his rushing average dipped on more carries in 2012 and it would have been practically a full yard lower than the 4.3 average he finished with if not for a 210-yard effort in a meaningless game at New Orleans in Week 17. But before you completely turn your back on Williams, know this: His usage has been a sizable factor in his production as he's failed to post big numbers in part because of a lack of opportunities. Here's proof: Williams has posted 10-plus Fantasy points in half of the 14 games with at least 12 carries he's had over the past three seasons. Make the magic number 13 carries and he's even more efficient, delivering 10-plus Fantasy points in 70 percent of his games. Now there are some fluky stats to help that number up (back-to-back games with 40-plus-yard touchdown receptions last year, for example), but he does not look slow nor does he display any significant decline in ability. If he gets the chance to escape Carolina and play with some consistency in an offense that doesn't let the quarterback hog goal-line work, there's potential for a 1,000-total-yard, eight-touchdown season.

Jonathan Stewart -- Sleeper

Expected 2013 Draft Averages
Cam Newton 20-30 overall
Steve Smith 65-75 overall
Jonathan Stewart 65-75 overall
DeAngelo Williams 75-90 overall
Greg Olsen 90-100 overall
Brandon LaFell Late-round pick
Mike Tolbert Late-round pick
Panthers DST Undrafted
Scenario A has the Panthers keeping DeAngelo Williams, muddying up what would otherwise be a delightful running back situation. Scenario B: The aforementioned delightful running back situation, where Williams is somewhere else and Stewart gets a decent amount of work every week. With a restructured contract in hand (proof the team wants him) and just 93 carries from a season ago, the 26-year-old stands to work as the primary rushing force in the Carolina offense. He was on his way there last year, getting 10-plus carries in six of nine games before hurting his ankle and ultimately having surgery. That's the same amount of 10-carry games he had in 2011, a sign the Panthers tried to lean on him more. There are obvious injury concerns with Stew but he's been a proven 1,000-total-yard guy in the past. The only catch would be touchdown production since he'd almost certainly lose out on goal-line work with Newton and Mike Tolbert in the fold. If Williams is out, Stewart should be in play as a 1,200-total-yard back, easily making him a worthy No. 3 running back.

Mike Tolbert -- Late-round flier

Aside from avoiding the Panthers running backs altogether, perhaps the best idea is to stick Tolbert on the back of your roster with a late pick. His first year in Carolina was gross -- only 54 carries, 27 receptions, 451 total yards and five of his seven touchdowns coming in the final three weeks of the season. But Tolbert split reps with two backs while seeing plenty of playing time as a fullback and a running back. If the Panthers send DeAngelo Williams packing, that should give Tolbert more touches. Throw in Jonathan Stewart's constant ankle and foot problems and one might envision Tolbert working as the full-time back at some point in 2012. At worst, an owner burns a late pick on Tolbert and dumps him after a couple of weeks. At best, Tolbert falls into a 15-touch role on a weekly basis. The risk in taking Tolbert late is low.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard and on Facebook .

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Player News
Report: Texans RB Arian Foster could miss first eight games of 2015
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(8/4/2015) Texans running back Arian Foster is expected to miss the first eight games of the season because of a 'major' groin injury, according to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network.

Foster suffered the groin injury during Monday's practice and hobbled off the field during a play. The injury, which may require surgery, could land him on the PUP list to begin the season. Foster dealt with multiple injuries in 2014, including a groin injury that forced him to miss two games.

The veteran ran for 1,246 yards and eight touchdowns in 2014 with 327 receiving yards and five receiving touchdowns. 


Eagles RB DeMarco Murray sidelined by hydration issue
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(8/4/2015) Eagles running back DeMarco Murray was forced to miss the first day of team drills on Sunday because of poor hydration levels, coach Chip Kelly said per the Philadelphia Inquirer.

"We did a hydration status test and he was a little bit high and obviously when you see guys that are high from a hydration standpoint, then you kind of pull them back a little bit because that's when they are susceptible for an injury," Kelly said.

"He's probably the most conditioned athlete on our team, but if you don't drink the requisite amount of water and electrolytes and have them in your system, it doesn't matter how fit you are," Kelly said of Murray. "Especially the weather - that was a big factor for us, too. We have had back-to-back, and going into three, 90-degree days. . . .You don't want to lose a guy in the first day."


49ers' Bruce Ellington, Ben Gottschalk dealing with injuries
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(8/4/2015) 49ers wide receiver Bruce Ellington will be held out of the next few practices because of a strained left leg, reports the Bay Area News Group. Ellington sustained the injury during Monday's practice.

"I'm holding him [out]," coach Jim Tomsula said. "I want to make sure we're good there."

Meanwhile, offensive lineman Ben Gottschalk underwent a foot procedure and is out indefinitely.


Rams DE Chris Long returns to practice
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(8/4/2015) Rams defensive end Chris Long was able to practice on Tuesday after missing the first three days with a back issue, according to The St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The veteran is expected to anchor a strong defensive line this year after playing just six games last season because of an injury. Long 51 1/2 career sacks in seven seasons in St. Louis.


49ers' Alex Boone shifting from right guard to left
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(8/4/2015) 49ers offensive lineman Alex Boone is expected to switch from right guard to left guard for the upcoming season, the veteran said per ESPN.com. He will replace three-time Pro Bowler Mike Iupati at the position.

"It's great," Boone said. "It's different, obviously, [after] playing next to Anthony [Davis] all those years, now you move over play next to Joe [Staley]. Both great tackles. Footwork's a little diferent, handwork is a little different, but at the end of the day it’s come along real well."


Report: RB Pierre Thomas to visit Texans
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(8/4/2015) The Texans could be in the market for a running back now that Arian Foster could be dealing with an injury. Veteran free agent Pierre Thomas is reportedly going to visit with Houston, according to NFL Network. 

He is expected to workout for the team on Wednesday. Thomas spent his entire career in New Orleans where he ran for 3,745 yards and 28 touchdowns in eight seasons. 


Cowboys 'like the fight' in cornerback Tyler Patmon
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(8/4/2015) Cowboys cornerback Tyler Patmon made news over the weekend when he got into a skirmish with star wide receiver Dez Bryant running the down the field. For the second-year player, it showed his tenacity and desire to play the game, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

"Well, Patmon is a great story for our team," coach Jason Garrett said. "He came to the rookie mimicamp as an undrafted, unsigned tryout guy. For him to do what he did over the course of those three days his first year to show us that, 'hey, he's one of the better guys. I don't care who we drafted or who we signed we need to make sure that he's one of the guys that has a chance to make our football team.'

"So what he is all about was demonstrated right from the start. He's a guy that's all about what he does. It doesn't really matter where he comes from and what has happened to him and other people in the past. He wants to show you what he's all about by what he does each and every day. And I think he’s done that since he's been here. He's a competitor. He's a fighter. He's an instinctive player. He loves to play the game. I think he’s gotten better and better."

Patmon is fighting for a roster spot and the fourth cornerback position on the team. 


Jets DE Muhammad Wilkerson misses practice on Tuesday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(8/4/2015) Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson was unable to practice on Tuesday while dealing with a sore hamstring, according to ESPN.com.

Wilkerson left Sunday's practice while dealing with the injury and is being held out as a precaution. 

"He’s feeling OK, [the hamstring is] tight," Jets coach Todd Bowles said. "It’s day to day -- we’re gonna err on the side of caution."


Lions negotiating to re-sign Haloti Ngata, DeAndre Levy
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(8/4/2015) The Lions are making a big push to re-sign defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and linebacker DeAndre Levy, according to The Detroit News. General manager Martin Mayhew said the team is in discussions with both player's agents on new deals. 

"[Levy's] a heck of a football player, just a playmaker on our defense," Mayhew said before training camp Tuesday. "Versus the run and the pass, the guy's an impact player, so we definitely want to keep him on our defense — very important to our football team. His leadership is also excellent, professional in every sense of the word, so he has a lot of value to us. And he's one of our own guys, so we want to definitely keep him around."

Ngata is entering his first season with the Lions after being traded from Baltimore in March.

"He's a phenomenal player," Mayhew said. "He can be an impact player for us as well along the defensive line. I don't really need to see a whole lot more. … I've seen enough to know that I want to have him around."


Eagles release WR Devante Davis, sign Josh Reese
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(8/4/2015) The Eagles have released wide receiver Devante Davis and signed free agent rookie Josh Reese, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Davis a rookie pickup and yet to play in the league.


 
 
 
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